Building Empathy & Understanding with the Knowsy Board Game

On April 18, 2015, the Conteneo team facilitated a session on the California drought, “Let’s Talk Water,” at the annual Redwood City-San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce Progress Seminar. Robert Bell, former San Mateo City Manager, was one of the organizers and sat down with us recently to discuss the session, and how the Knowsy Board Game was used to build empathy and allow people who had only just met to tackle such a complex issue. (For those not in the know, Conteneo’s Alignment Engine is the online and business-focused evolution of the Knowsy Board Game and consumer iPad app.)

Conteneo: What was the purpose of the Knowsy “Let’s Talk Water” Session?:

Robert Bell: Once a year, at the annual Progress Seminar, San Mateo County community, business ProgressSeminar_Signand government leaders get the chance to come together to learn, share and discuss successes and ideas for the future of our region.  For this year’s event, we decided to invite the Conteneo team to host a number of breakout sessions using Knowsy in order to help participants talk about a complex issue we are facing–the California drought–and to experience an innovative way to catalyze meaningful conversations to increase empathy, connection and understanding.

Did Knowsy accomplish this?
The Knowsy Board Game was fantastic. We ran four sessions, each very well attended and what surprised everyone was how effectively the game’s structure helped attendees both talk about the topic, and learn about what others thought — without the typical difficulties that groups have in making sure everyone is both heard and has time to share their ideas. Laura Richardson, our facilitator, asked each session’s attendees at the end how many felt they knew the people at their table better than the neighbors on their own street. The question did get many laughs, but the reality is that nearly everyone in the room agreed that the game structure really helped them get to know the 6 or 7 people at their table better and faster than they know folks on their own block.

When do you think Knowsy works best?
For people to come together to tackle tough problems, whether in business or in their communities, people need to gain a certain level of empathy and understanding for those they need to work with. I’m convinced that Knowsy can be a key part in creating an effective environment where people can move beyond soundbites and superficial exchanges and actually gain empathy and understanding about the groups they are in. This is really the foundation for solution-building.

So the Progress Seminar participants really enjoyed it too?
The Knowsy sessions received the highest evaluations from the participants, many of whom said that participating helped them make important connections with other attendees, which is one of the primary reasons people attend!